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28 October 2014
Internet providers must do more to tackle child sexual exploitation, say police

Internet providers must do more to tackle child sexual exploitation, say police

Internet service providers and social networking sites need to do more to help law enforcement combat child sexual exploitation, the officer in charge of Police Scotland’s response has claimed.

In an exclusive interview with Holyrood, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, whose responsibilities cover major crime and public protection, said those who deliver the internet and various digital platforms should have a “bigger role in taking responsibility” for tackling the issue.

Raising the prospect of changes in internet regulation, Graham said there are a number of tactics law enforcement ought to be using to guard against the criminal activity that those working in the online community should be required to assist with.

Child sexual exploitation has been the subject of increased public scrutiny in the two months since Professor Alexis Jay OBE delivered findings of her inquiry in Rotherham.

Officers from Police Scotland as well as professionals working in child protection north of the border will sit down with Prof Jay at Tulliallan next week to assess the implications of her work for Scotland.      

Graham said: “This hasn’t been a huge feature of the debate so far UK-wide or in Scotland but we need to do more to look at how we can develop the internet to improve the security and safety of those who are using it and that responsibility should also be firmly placed on the commercial entities that are profiting from the internet, so internet service providers and the various companies that run the main social media and other digital platforms that young people persistently use and that is increasingly changing. 

“… in terms of internet regulation, that’s a reserved issue and Scotland needs to be a part of influencing how that’s taken forward at a UK level. There is a lot more that we could do to make sure that the law and regulations are in place to try and minimise that.

“There is so much technical opportunity to actually minimise and prevent young people coming to harm but also to identify when people are coming to harm through the internet. And I think those that provide the internet and those that provide those platforms should have a bigger role in taking responsibility for some of that.”

Asked of specific steps that could be taken in terms of regulation, Graham added: “We are working with some of our law enforcement colleagues across the UK to look at exactly what those means are and trying to get some best practice from across the world as well. But I genuinely feel that the UK are at the forefront of trying to challenge what is a global issue. 

“We could identify children who are being abused across the world and the perpetrators of some of those crimes through online means might live in Scotland. We have a responsibility to seek to address that. 

“When we’re talking about digital images or videos being streamed then there are means of identifying that technically that we haven’t yet developed as far as we could. And there are a whole lot of methodologies and tactics that the police should be using in conjunction with and through the cooperation of some of these organisations that they should be required to provide, that would allow us the best means of protecting young people.”

Graham, who appeared before Holyrood’s justice committee earlier this month, said more could be done to “require” ISPs and those behind the likes of online apps to take action to prevent this type of activity.  

“For instance, at the moment we know that there’s a big issue with indecent images,” he added. “Now they might be self-generated by young people or they might not be, but when they’re online we know that at the moment there is a big issue with getting them taking offline. 

“Technically, it’s actually quite easy to identify those images and remove them. Practically, we haven’t got to a stage where we can do that. And for me that’s an opportunity to prevent the continued revictimisation of an individual.

“The people who are best placed to take responsibility for doing that are the people that provide the systems, develop the technology, and have the professional knowledge of how to do that. They need to, and indeed they are willing, to take that responsibility, and it probably needs to be written into developments in the law and regulation that will ensure that it happens.”

A national child abuse investigation unit is to be set up by Police Scotland before the end of the year.

Last week, Holyrood revealed that internet sites could carry pop-up warnings on the risks of human trafficking under plans being considered by the UK’s top law enforcement agency.

National Crime Agency deputy director of organised crime, Caroline Young, claimed the step could act as a preventative measure to stem the number of potential victims in today’s digital age.

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